Kidnapped dwarf crocodile returned to aquarium

April 1, 2008 5:37:21 AM PDT

Taggen, a 4-year-old crocodile, was reported missing Monday from his cage at the Bergen Aquarium after his captors broke the latch over the weekend and took the reptile, said marine biologist Kees Oscar Ekeli, the aquarium's director.

After the theft of the 27-inch-long croc made national news in Norway, the kidnappers handed him over to reporters from the TV-2 television network through a middleman late Monday, reports said.

"He is recuperating. He had a tough time. But this animal will survive," Ekeli said, adding that heavy tape had been used to keep the reptile's mouth shut.

A reptile enthusiast later claimed responsibility for the theft, telling national media he took Taggen to protest the reptile's poor cage conditions. It was not known whether police would take the man, Vaalen Gaanev of the Web site, into custody for questioning.

Taggen is a Paleosuchus Trigonatus, also known as a Schneider's dwarf caiman. Ekeli said the smooth-fronted caimans are among the world's smallest species of crocodile. They grow up to 8½ feet long and typically are found in South America.

Ekeli said Gaanev's claim of poor care was "idiotic" and that conditions at the aquarium are excellent.

"I think he may have wanted to have a crocodile but afterward, with all the attention, realized he would be exposed," Ekeli said.